Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Americans and Flamenco

Flamenco Guitarist Diego del Gastor – A loving, over-the-top 2008 appraisal by Luís Soler Guevara – translated by Brook Zern

This is a translation of a talk given by Luís Soler Guevara in 2008 to mark the centenary of the birth of Diego del Gastor. Señor Soler is a highly respected flamenco expert whom I knew in Málaga. He clearly loved Diego, as did many others who spent time with him in his home town of Morón de la Frontera. Soler wears his heart on his sleeve here, and one might wonder if his adoration has clouded his judgement or his normally sound critical faculties. (Fortunately, I never lost my objectivity in this matter, although for years I assumed the Flamenco Society of San Diego was a religious organization. Still, I have always maintained strict objectivity regarding Diegod.)

It’s nice to see Sr. Soler’s recognition of my dear friends Steve Kahn and Estela Zatania, and queridos amigos Bill Davidson and the late Don Pohren, who was the first and finest of the American flamencologists. Apologies for some likely mistranslations:

Mi Abrazo a Diego del Gastor — My Embrace ot Diego del Gastor

Flamenco aficionados, those of us who dedicate ourselves to investigating, studying, writing – in other words, to inventing a history of the art – fall short with respect to the guitar. We can reflect upon aspects of the guitarist, or sketch his profile as a person, and possibly situate the guitarist’s position in the history of the art, abandoning ourselves to his capacity to generate deep emotions. It’s this latter aspect that is reflected in the title of this article: My embrace for Diego del Gastor.

Diego has evoked so many perceptions among writers, poets and aficionados the I find it very deifficult to say anything new about him; and since I’m not a musician, the task is even more daunting. Still, the evocative aura of this great guitarist is so extraordinarily rich that these times come to consecrate his expressive capacity, even for those who may not know music but feel touched by his magic.

So let these words serve as a prologue to the marvelous sound that Diego, more than anyone else, institutionalized as the toque de Morón – the Morón guitar style. For that reason, I’ll try to say something about a man who, beyond Andalucía, sowed a unique approach to making the guitar make music.

His name was as singular as his playing. Before him, I know of no other guitarist with his name. It’s as if the history of flamenco reserved it especially for him. It’s enough to say those five letters for everyone to know who we’re talking about; even when a guitarist plays his signature variations or falsetas we can’t help noticing who his name, escapes like a sussuro: A whisper that, beyond admiration, conveys adoration of his music.

Diego didn’t seek interviews, but he didn’t avoid them either, in one, done for Spanish National Television, he said that his baptism lasted for five days. Five letters that on that occasion were given to him as a name. Five letters, like the five continents to which his magical sounds eventually expanded. Five letters that can define and describe his artistic personality.

D Duende
I Impresionante
E Especial
G Grande
O Original

Diego had lots of duende, his playing was impressive, his personage was special and his art was grand and original.

Diego was not a virtuos of the guitar; nonetheless he had many virtues. Among them, the one that stands out to me is the virtue of making us fall in love. In love with his profound and majestic toque festero – the lighter styles that were the pulse of so many fiestas or flamenco jam sessions. Diego’s guitar exists in the realm of the sacred.

His art, though born in this world, belongs to the sacred. He created his music as oysters create their own beautiful works: some irritating agent, though barely noticed, slowly, without any hurry, but inexorably. His dream, a living legend from an earlier time that refuses to die with the dawn of a new millennium, remains vital, and stands out in the desert of phantasms that arise in the flamenco galaxy of opportunism and glitz.

For Diego, flamenco was never just a spectacle or a commodity; when this happens, it is actually devalued. For Diego, flamenco is a culture steeped in centuries. It is a way of thinking and feeling while confronting life. A way of expressing one’s totality of life experiences and of communicating them to others through a lyrical art.

I’d like to pursue this intimate concept of flamenco whose greatest power is the most authentic expression of lives and traditions through music. I’d like to keep hauling this cart full of diverse passions that awaken and feed this Andalusian culture. I want to continue embracing Diego del Gastor – his wizardry and his imperishable enchantment. His unique way of feeling flamenco. I want to follow this flag, although I don’t like the abanderados.

I don’t want to become distracted by criticizing the consumerism that devours so many musics that flow from the heart of human beings. Still, I’ll say, paraphrasing a poem by Georges Brassens: “People don’t like it when someone has his own faith.” That’s an issue I don’t want to get into right now, one that generates attitudes and actions with respect to how one also understands flamenco.

Diego is more essence (fondo) than form. I love that essence and the ethic of things, more than their forms and aesthetics. But I can’t ignore the latter. Perhaps for this reason, those words, although situated on the border of passion, do not imply the abandonment of the merely rational.

While other Diego de Gastors may keep arising in this Andalusian landscape, my heart will keep navigating toward the paths that seek the road leading to the majestic in the art of flamenco. His providential figure, more than a song to life, was a song to love, a challenge to the impossible, a challenge to what we call art, and despite the fact that my soul is aflame, I will continue to embrace that sound.

Diego del Gastor was also Diego of Arriate, Diego de Ronda, Diego de Moron, de Utrera – Diego of a thousand different flamenco geographies, because he came from all of them. All those places where in a night of profound emotions we would discover his musical talent and his deeply personal way of caressing the guitar.

Diego, despite the fact that he rarely left his home – when he did, Utrera and the countryside were his preferred pilgrimages – generated afición in hundreds of people who, even if they were born abroad, decided to live their lives enveloped in this culture. In this – more than a task, a devotional sense of a sensibility that was so impressive – I believe he was unsurpassed. For him, it was all just natural. He was a teacher of many who never asked to be his students. Those who would be inculcated and impregnated with the simple maxim: There is no better university than life itself. And in this, Diego had the real doctorate.

Diego has been a great ambassador, especially in the U.S.: Surprisingly, he was almost as well known in California as in Andalucía. People of note in worlds as diverse as Bergamín, García Ulecia, Don Pohren, Steve Kahn, Roger Klein, William Davidson, Estela Zatania, etc., discovered the warmth of a man whose spell would captivate them forever.

It all happened without Diego traveling to the other stages of the world that are so crucial to the reputation and projection of so many other artists. For this reason, the singularity and the figure of Diego del Gastor in the flamenco world can not only be found in his artistic qualities, but also in his role as the ambassador of a unique and very intimate concept of flamenco.

His gigs, almost always marked by restricted appearances and hundreds of encounters in the flamenco world of Morón, were shared with the likes of artists like Juan Talega, Manolito de la Maria, Perrate, Joselero, Fernandillo, Curro Mairena, Bernarda de Utrera, Enrique Mendez and just a few others, but above all his muse, Fernanda de Utrera.

The Morón-born historian Juan J. García López offers us this information: “In Japan, his style is pedagogically systematized in conservatories; in New York, there exists a school of guitar that studies his musical forms and artistic modes. That school carries his name: The School of Diego del Gastor.”

Yes, Diego created a school, albeit limited in terms of repertoire, but very distinctive and intensely real and current. His falsetas and variations, somehow terrifying as well as tremendously demanding, constructed and expressed with an enchantment that is deeply profound, have not passed unnoticed for many, including some who may not acknowledge their source. Those who have questioned not the flamenco essence of his art but his framework and technical prowess.

Moreover, what gives value to an artist’s work, regardless of what he creates, is how he does it. Diego, as well as having enormous talent, had an intuition and a special heart that generated music. He captured the essences of old popular and folk songs and choruses, even from classical pieces, where he incorporated those fragments into his repertoire, giving them a rare flamenco aspect. He did his his way – that is, differently from anyone else.

Perhaps his trademarks created a certain envy in other artists, those who fall of their own weight while Diego never chased a professional career or competed with the famous guitarists of his time. He only tried to express himself within his singular sensibility, and at that he succeeded.

We hear his impressive sting in the flamenco form called the soleares, in his interrupted silences in the realm of the siguiriyas, in his musical resolutions based on the malagueñas that Ramón Montoya recorded in 1910 while accompanying the singer Niño de la Isla. And in the arrangements and combinations that he enployed to give a flamenco flair to one of the most beautiful of all classical pieces, Beethoven’s Fur Elise.

Diego put his soul into everything he played. Without soul, art cannot be sublime. Art is a mixture of the expressive qualities of the artist and the domination and knowledge of technique. For that reason, when some aficionados wish to diminish the importance of the Morón style of guitar, they focus o its technical deficiencies, defending the well executed, placing value almost exclusively on technical perfection, and forgetting the essential quality of the elements of flamenco substance that the artist must generate to create truth.

Diego was very delicate. He had, and felt, a profound respect for flamenco. He liked silence and quietude, not the applause of the public or the voices of those whose shouted encouragements were simply showing off, and revealed no understanding of the art’s rhythmic essence; his performances were preceded with enormous elegance, and his mastery of the crucial quality of saber estar – of “knowing how to be” – were almost religious.

For him, that was the rule of conduct to follow when exercising the ritual of flamenco song and guitar. If a fly bothered him, it wasn’t because he was fussy, though in some measure he was, but because of his high regard for the art.

Diego loved the flamenco song so much that at times, he buscaba arropes in the family tradition to interpret some styles of soleares. Among them were those sung by his father, and those that he, along with his brother, the singer Joselero, called “flamenco songs (cantes) of the Sierra de Grazalema”.

Some will know that Grazalema is a town in the province of Cadiz whose mountains surround Arriate, Ronda and El Gastor, where Diego was born, baptized and spent his early years.

He showed those songs to Joselero, and later they entered the repertoire of the great artist Juan Peña el Lebrijano. Diego, aside from being a guitarist, was thus a transmitter of songs.

We can’t be sure, but it seems that those old variants of the soleares, possibly originating in that area, were incorporated into the soleares of Anilla de Ronda, a singer and guitarist, who was related to Diego. Anilla, also surnamed Amaya, and a Gypsy as was Diego, was widely admired as a singer of soleares.

One possible interpretation of all this leads us to say that the songs brought to light by Diego dated back almost a century and a half, and the family tradition brings it to us today.

This is one revelation among hundreds, among thousands of sounds, that leads me to say with some justification that the evolution of time has conserved and polished through the years the manifest grandeur of this musical culture of southern Spain, unprecedented in the history of civilization. Diego Flores Amaya is one more link in a chain whose reach offers us a perspective of centuries.

Photo caption – Diego, with Curro Vera and neighbors from the Barrio de Santa Maria in Morón

Having said this, it seems proper to note that Diego was a great aficionado of flamenco song, a quality that is not often seen among the new figures that have arisen in flamenco guitar, where technique dominates their approach, but where the heart, that motor of deep emotions, remains firmly in second place.

To this last thread, let me offer some reflections that underline the contrast between the guitar of Diego del Gastor and the new conception of flamenco shared by most of the great flamenco guitarists, whose prestige I won’t question, much less criticize.

To illustrate, I will describe some qualities that apply to guitar playing. First, the tendency to accelerate the rhythm. Then the sheer velocity in the production of notes. Today there are excellent guitarists who, in a common phrase, eat up the guitar – but who may not digest or assimilate it. They can play ten notes per second, but are incapable of generating a silence that captivates the soul.

Silences are not the negation of music, but the most exquisite of its contrasts. Music is the organization of elements which expresses the combination of sounds and silences, Silences are the space which fills our sense of reflection. Without those silences there are fewer moments for reflection and that therefore one cannot fully relish the sublime moments in guitar playing. Diego took the distance with respect to that conception or current of understanding the marvelous world of music.

Diego felt the necessity of transmitting his art. For that he had to interpret and above all digest what he wished in order to call forth the rest, In every artist’s mind there is something deeply present: the communication of his world, his work and his art.

To digest and absorb is also to meditate very carefully upon something in order to understand it. No one would drink boiling coffee because, aside from burning you, it would not have real flavor. In other words, the act of drinking coffee requires spaces for reflection in order to appreciate what you’re doing. When we speak of harmonic sounds, and although the human ear, as a receiver of sound, is scientifically prepared to instantaneously connect to its production, its storehouse of associations and its understanding demand a temporal space to enjoy the process.

Taking that theory to extremes: If a guitarist could produce all his sounds at once, we would achieve the complete negation of harmony and of music itself. We could only perceive one single noise.

When the rhythm accelerates, the silences become shorter. Almost imperceptible, one might say. And the less silence, the less sosiego and the fewer reflections. I think it’s fair to say that allowing oneself to be captivated by the notes of a flamenco guitar requires a great calmness. Without that predisposition it’s impossible to perceive all its distinctive aroma.

Let’s take as an example a sung soleares. The interpretation of the sound does not rise at the peak, but at the conclusion, in the transit toward the end, when the song is reaching its close. Raising the voice is relatively easy. What’s really difficult is maintaining its descending scale, the sostenido (sharp). In those spaces, in those silences, we find the best flavors, the best moments. The guitar also seeks this catharsis. Sustaining a note is much harder than elevating it. And I believe that here we find the world of Diego.

Another current today is the construction of very extended falsetas (guitar variations) together with the singing action: the tendency toward concertism. In this situation the accompanying guitar per se should not take over the mission of the principal subject in a flamenco oration – that is, of the singer – but should instead complement the work of the singer. That’s done by offering dialogues, and indicating paths so the song can be manifested in its fullest dimension.

Photo caption: Steve Kahn and Diego del Gastor in Morón, 1967. Photo by Chris Carnes

The act of singing, or of playing in the guitarist’s case, is necessarily the product of the register of the artist. This register stores a treasury of dialogues that the singer as much as the guitarist transform in establishing through the principal aspect, the song. I say the song, not the singer.

Remember what Fernanda de Utrera said in an interview: “Diego and I were the pair that most perfectly complemented one another (se ha compenetrado] in flamenco. Each of us in love with the art of the other. I was the strings of his guitar, and he was the urgent lament (queja) of my voice.” And she concluded: “No one knew how to draw out what I carry within myself like Diego del Gastor.”

Francisco Ayala also offered a lucid analysis of the figure of Diego, affirming: “The playing of Diego del Gastor contains more soul, more duende, than the playing of any other flamenco guitarist today. Diego doesn’t adhere to the modern trend for speed and for personal showing off (lucimiento), admittedly necessary for those who must compete in today’s commercial atmosphere of flamenco. On the contrary, he tenaciously retains the simplicity of times gone by, before the flamenco guitar was turned into a virtuoso instrument, when it was still fundamentally a genuine and primitive medium for expressing the depth of flamenco.”

In some way, he exaggerates the great aficionado/artist of Morón. Diego is just that way, neither competing nor feeling like a competitor. He just expresses way of being, a form of feeling, of living, a way of making flamenco; his way, neither better nor worse than another way, but different. And that difference, fundamentally, is located in the soul that he puts into everything he plays.

Perhaps this phrase could increase the level of confusion in some not very initiated aficionados, since they may think that every artist puts his soul into whatever he does. That may be true, as certain as the fact that every athlete wants to win, but it’s just as certain that only one person can actually succeed. Allow me this metaphor: This is Diego. From him we see from the beginning the great virtue of falling in love with his art.

Diego’s playing is like a river,: mysterious and enigmatic, such that we will never be able to verify how its waters flow to so many seas and so many oceans.

Also allow me the following reflection: There are some who approach a flower just to see its colors. Others, however, may also appreciate its smell. There are those who approach the sea to look at it and only see its surface. Then there are others who also want to know its depths. Diego is like the flower that only reveals its true profile and its true aroma when we get to the bottom.

At the root of this consideration I ask this question: Why should we stop with the appearances of things, in their forms; why not penetrate right to the essence? Diego’s guitar is like that deep and warm sea whose flavors and pleasures can only be paladear and felt by submerging oneself in its waters, by abandoning oneself to its notes.

My embrace of Diego del Gastor must necessarily take note of these aspects. Now, from the perspecitive of years gone by, though it’s difficult not to submerge oneself in this well where time gives rise to a nostalgia that idealizes those yesterdays, I feel that my heart remembers – perhaps aided by the many celebrations that are marking the centenary of his birth – with more urgency than ever. Diego left us thirty-five years ago. For me, more than an enormous void, he left a world of magias that I have been discovering, slowly, the same way that oysters perform their beautiful work.

My embrace of Diego del Gastor is just one more. One more embrace among the many shared with hundreds of aficionados, whose sensibilities recognize the singular fact of an artist born asido the belly of a guitar, who knew how to use its six strings to evoke emotions that were as fascinating as they were insolitas unexpected.

My embrace of Diego del Gastor is not a farewell but an encounter. A long-lasting encounter with an artist whose greatest treasure was captivating me. Captivating me forever with that extraordinarily rich music extracted from the people, from the essence of centuries past.

My embrace of Diego del Gastor also signifies my most sincere recognition of this Andalusian culture that you have given me. My embrace of Diego is my embrace of an art that sows passions, that spills emotions, and that is the envy of the whole world.

Thank you for your attention.

Conference for the Pablo Olavide University in Carmona, July 3, 2008 by Luís Soler Guevara

Translator’s note: The many flamenco people who never bought Diego’s act will no doubt find this laughable. Well, maybe it’s a bit overwrought, but I think it sheds light on the character and the genuinely mysterious art of Diego del Gastor. It has been my imagined privilege to carry his music in my fingers for more than half a century, and as I struggle to do it justice and recapture his unique air (aire) and his unmistakeable creations, I sometimes think of a line from a flamenco song, probably a malagueña: “Perlas a millares” which must mean “pearls by the thousands.”

Last week in New York, it was my real privilege to reminisce about Diego with one of the few people who actually did capture his essence, the great aficionado and noted photographer Steve Kahn, who created an important show of photographs by himself and others capturing the essence of those years we squandered at the figurative feet of this giant. The original article appears, with photos of Diego, Steve and others, at this url:

http://www.agenda-atalaya.com/mi-abrazo-a-diego-del-gastor/

P.S. I like the notion, mentioned above and widely believed in Spain, that in New York there was/is a school devoted to the preservation of the upkeep and preservation of the guitar style of Diego del Gastor. Of course, there never was such a thing. But for decades I was playing his stuff for any willing or unwilling listeners, usually alone but joined for one recent decade by Steve and then by Ian Banks, another fine interpreter of the style, who is still presenting this living tradition at cafés and other venues in the Big Apple.

Come to think of it, I guess maybe it could be called a school. A bit understaffed, admittedly, but yeah, why not?

To see this man at work, go to YouTube, add “flamenco”, “rito”, “Diego del Gastor” and “English”. Yep, that was the first of the 100 programs in this great Rito y Geografia de Flamenco documentary series that I liberated starting in 1972 (I bought it on 16 mm film), and it made my year; fifteen exhausting years later I finally got the rest. And by the way, when it was time to choose the introductory theme music for every damn episode, from a dozen worthy guitarists who are now legndary, who do you think the team of experts chose to give maximum flamenco-ness to the proceedings. You guessed it.

Abrazos a todos, as they say in Spain.

Brook Zern

February 16, 2017   No Comments

Moreen Silver [Carnes], American Flamenco Singer and Documentarian, Released from Illegal Confinement in Madrid – El Confidencial article translated with comments by Brook Zern

Article by Roberto Ballesteros from El Confidencial of February 7, 2016:

The Calvary [Ordeal] of “La Marrurra” is Ended: The TC Orders Her Freed From the Alzheimer Residence

After two years of confinement, the high tribunal declares that Court 30 violated her right to personal freedom and locked her up without relying on medical information or communication with the director of the facility.

Article: The Constituional Tribunal has spoken, and reason has prevailed. Moreen Silver “La Marrurra” can go home again. The First Chamber of the high tribunal has ordered the immediate freeing of the American flamenco singer, who was held “prisoner” – as she insisted – in a residence for Alzheimer victims for the last two years by order of Juzgado number 30 of Madrid.

The [five magistrates] have granted the request of the singer’s lawyer against the resolution that ordered her confinement. They demanded that the woman leave the residence at once – as has already happened, last Thursday, one day after the ruling, and they ruled that her right to personal freedom was violated when she was confined against her will.

The Tribunal, which has declared null and void the ruling that allowed her internment, stated that “it is not fitting to reproach Samur Social [Social Services]” for providing the information that recommended placing Silver in a residence to observe symptoms of “cognitive decline”, but rather to blame the Juzgado [judgment] that considered this sufficient reason to keep her in the residence. According to the Sala Primera, the judge should have freed her because the director of the residence did not communicate the reasons for internment within the maximum 24 hour period, nor did it back up the supposed psychiatric data with a medical statement.

The singer had lived alone in the Chamberí neighborhood of Madrid ever since her husband had returned to the U.S. more than 20 years ago, when on February 14, 2014, she was visited by the Samur Social. The neighbors had alerted authorities that she had accumulated things – referring to her inexhaustible and chaotic archive of books, photographs and recordings—and the Social Services went to her house, observed electrical plugs that were exposed, and boxes and objects in the middle of the room, and she herself – then age 72 – “sin arreglar” [disheveled?].

The investigators issued a report concluding that the apartment presented unhealthy conditions and recommended that the owner be taken to a residence. They invited her to enter the ambulance and took her to a center specializing ain the treatment of Alzheimers, where she lived until the recent resolution of the Constitutional Tribunal that definitively freed her from a place “en el que no encajaba” [where she did not belong?], as she herself affirmed in an interview she gave to this publication last June.

Moreen didn’t have Alzheimer’s or anything like it. She only suffered – as her defense argued – from ADHD, since she was young. U.S. doctors had prescribed Ribifen (metilfenidato) which she took regularly until she entered the residence two years ago. The lack of that medication harmed the patient, her lawyer argued. A psychiatrist testified before a Madrid Juzgado that this dirimía her incapacity, adding that the depressive medication given to her in the residence were harmful to her.

The defense argued that “the fact that someone lives a life that’s more or less bohemian or disorderly is not sufficient reason to deprive that person of liberty. It’s allowable to insist on certain measures, that the clean their house or fix the lighting, or dress differently – according to the taste of a certain patron. But never, never can a person be confined for atypical conduct”, her lawyer said. To do this “is simply a crime, a barbarity, and all the more if this taking of liberty is not followed by an immediate notification of a judge,” which was not done in this case.

Regarding this point, the Consitutional noted another ruling of the same court stating that “in no case can different social, cultural, political or religious values be considered proof of mental illness”.

End of article, which is found (followed by an earlier article on the case) at http://www.elconfidencial.com/espana/2015-06-13/la-marrurra-el-triste-caso-de-la-cantaora-yanqui-que-puede-cambiar-la-doctrina-del-tc_881856/

Translator’s note:

Moreen Silver arrived in Spain in the sixties with her husband, the late Chris Carnes, a superb flamenco guitarist. I saw them often in Morón, where they were an integral part of that unique flamenco scene. Moreen had mastered the fiendishly difficult art of flamenco song – so well, in fact, that she was (and probably remains) the only American singer to make an LP for a major Spanish label. The man who made it happen, and who accompanied her songs, was Melchor de Marchena – by some measures the greatest accompanist who ever lived, and who may have played for the more great singers than anyone else.

Moreen and Chris made hundreds of hours of recordings of flamenco – thus saving for posterity the sound of many artists who had been unrecorded or under-recorded. In other words, the stuff cluttering Moreen’s apartment that led to her illegal eviction and confinement included the most important audio documentation of great flamenco made between the mid-sixties and the late seventies, not to mention priceless other cultural materials.

(I had the occasional honor of trying to help their recording efforts – buying tape, or sending their Uher tape recorder to Germany for repairs, or whatever else might help. When my wife and I had to leave our Seville apartment in 1966, we gave all our stuff to Moreen and Chris; and long afterwards, in the nineties, I helped Chris arrange the digitizing of his recordings, and also facilitate his getting treatments in California for a terminal illness.)

I’m grateful to Moreen for her invaluable work and long-ago friendship, and it’s good to know she’s back at home.

Brook Zern

February 7, 2016   4 Comments

Yet Another Major Collection of Flamenco – Nearly All From Don Pohren’s Finca Espartero

Frontstory: If the 46 hours of great homespun sixties flamenco mentioned yesterday in this blog (at http://soundcloud.com/quinfolk/sets/the-flamenco-tapes-recorded-by-david-k-loughran-1964-1965) isn’t enough for you, here’s a website with another 46 hours worth:

www.flamencogitano.com

No kidding. The casts of the two collections are very similar. The Loughran material may partly predate this batch from the Finca Espartero, Don Pohren’s flamenco dude ranch where anyone could get immersed in heavy-duty music without spending years learning the ropes and paying dues. This Finca material seems to pick up where the ’64-’65 Loughran material leaves off, starting in 1966 and evidently continuing to beyond 1973. Guitarists on each collection include Diego del Gastor and and some of his gifted nephews; shared singers may include the Utrera sisters plus Perrate de Utrera, Joselero, Juan Talega, Curro Mairena, Ansonini, Manolito de la María…

Backstory: A few years ago, I found this flamencogitano.com website and later met and thanked the aficionado who made it. But I’d had the material for several years before that.

When this stuff was recorded I was often in Morón, sometimes living at town’s no-star hotel and sometimes staying at the Finca. I had tried to record some of those sessions with my new-fangled portable Norelco cassette recorder, a high-tech but lo-fi wonder of the era. Fortunately, a dedicated expert with a good open-reel machine did that invaluable work properly. About four decades later, I learned that someone else had obtained those recordings and was selling them as CD’s. I was thrilled to buy the 51 CD’s for five hundred bucks — hey, a bargain at twice the price, though not an ideal situation.

(In 1972 I wrote about the Finca for the New York Times, trying to capture the aura of the era — it’s here at http://www.flamencoexperience.com/blog/?p=463 )

I know there are serious issues surrounding the ownership and distribution of other people’s music in general, and privately-made flamenco recordings in particular. There are too many stories involving distrust, suspicion and anger. But a half-century is a long time to try and suppress great music; a lot of people who would have loved to hear this stuff have died over that period.

It never rains but it pours. Now anyone can listen to this extraordinary music for four days and nights, or even longer if one has to sleep. (And you might have to sleep — it’s an understatement to say that this music is repetitive. While Paco de Lucía often took many years to create enough guitar material for a new LP or work out a new record with Camarón, these recordings involve the same folks doing the same traditional stuff on good nights and bad nights and occasional great nights. Predictably, the sound quality varies from barely mediocre to surprisingly good.)

Note to the visually inclined: As a complement to this audio material from that amazing epoch, go to YouTube and see the scads of half-hour films in the great Rito y Geografía del Flamenco TV series of the early seventies. (I bought the first 16-millimeter film copies of a few programs in 1973, at five hundred bucks a pop, before the network vetoed further transactions. After fifteen years of begging and scheming I was allowed to pay a lot for the transfer of all the programs from film to videotape. I gave the first set to Columbia University, grabbed the second set for myself, and declined the commercial rights. My stash includes some programs that were never marketed in any of the three Spanish editions: not the poorly done Alga Editores cassette version, not the better TVE cassette version, not even the marvelous CD edition in beautiful hardcover booklets with English subtitles, enhanced video and sound and terrific commentary from the guiding light of the project, José María Velázquez-Gaztelu. I suppose my unseen programs should be put up on YouTube if it doesn’t antagonize any human beings or lawyers…)

Brook Zern

March 25, 2015   1 Comment

An Important Collection of Private Flamenco Recordings Brought to Light at Last – How to Hear Them On SoundCloud

In the 1960′s and 70′s a few foreigners, mostly Americans, were so struck by the quality of flamenco in several towns near Seville that they resolved to save those magnificent sounds forever.

They succeeded beyond measure. Today, Spain owes most of its understanding of the music of that time and place to the crucial efforts of people including Chris Carnes, Moreen Carnes, Steve Kahn, Carol Whitney and a few others — some who choose to remain nameless and others to be named later. (I never had a good tape recorder in Spain, but I helped some of those people by buying tape and paying to ship their Uher recorders to Germany for repairs.)

This is very different from commercial or official recordings. This is flamenco “de uso” — as it was used in everyday life, sometimes with the hope that someone would hire the artists for actual money, but usually because the artists loved to make and share this music with their friends and fellow artists. In a world where “pure” is mocked by scholars as meaningless and “authentic” is applied to just about everything anyone wants to sell more of, well, as noted below, this is the real deal.

Yesterday, in response to a post on this blog about Diego del Gastor, I learned that another intrepid gringo had been adding to the historic effort. I remember the name, and here is information from his son-in-law, David Quinn, with explanations in brackets and more comments at the end. You can see his brief note as a reply to the post:

“My wife’s father, David K. Loughran, who died recently, hauled around a reel-to-reel tape machine to Flamenco parties in and around Morón de la Frontera, Spain in 1964 and 1965.

“The musicians he was recording are known as flamenco masters, “mythical figures” of flamenco. The town is the epicenter of Gypsy flamenco. These players were the real deal – actual Gypsies – the real source of this music.

“They include:
Diego del Gastor, La Fernanda de Utrera [one of the greatest singers in flamenco history], Manolito de la Maria [ditto], [the American] Chris Carnes, Fernandillo de Moron, Antonio Amaya Flores “El Mellizo” [the guitarist and older brother of Diego del Gastor] and others.

“There are 46 hours of recordings, made at house parties and in cafés,
some with just the musicians and recorder present, some at crowded fiestas. The quality varies, but considering the circumstances, I think it is remarkable.

“I know there are musicians reading this; if you know someone who might be interested in hearing these please share this post, and/or the link below.
We’re trying to gather as much information as we can, with the goal of a more accurate track list.

“At the very least, they make excellent fiesta music!

“They can be heard at https://soundcloud.com/quinfolk/sets/the-flamenco-tapes-recorded-by-david-k-loughran-1964-1965

“These notes on content are unedited and transcribed From the hand written notes on the reel boxes:

*Reels 1 through 4:
- Diego, solo, December 1964
- Diego, Fernando, Manolito, Jselero, at a juerga at Venta El Calero
- Diego, Fernando & Manolito at a juerga at Club Mercantil
- Diego, Mellizo & Manolito at Diego’s house, a juerga for Pepe Rios

*Reel 4 Side B through Reel 6 Side A
- First juerga in Morón after cante jondo contest in Cordoba, with Diego, Paco del Gastor [the brilliant nephew of Diego], Manolito, Fernando, and Enrique [son of the legendary Joaquin el de la Paula]
- Juan and Dieguito del Gastor [the two other nephews of Diego, both fine guitarists] in Chris’s room at the hospedaje
- Easter Sunday juerga at El Calero with Diego and Manolito
- Andres Cabrera, Vicenta
- Juerga at El Calero

*Reel 6 Side B through Reel 9 Side A
- Antonio Amaya Flores (El Mellizo) at home
- Saetas in Utrera (Hermandad de los gitanos – Semana Santa 1965)
- Saetas at la Campana, Seville, with Lebrijano [a superb singer], Manolo Mairena [an excellent singer, younger brother of the great Antonio Mairena].
- Short Juerga at Casa Pepe with Dieguito del Gastor [now called Dieguito or Diego de Morón], Joselero [Diego del Gastor's brother-in-law, a fine local singer], Fernando [Fernandillo de Morón, a good singer and festero], Bob Haynes [a fine American guitarist], Church [?], etc.
- La Sallago [an excellent singer who sounded terrific until her very recent death], Terremoto [one of the greatest singers in flamenco's history].
- Terremoto, La Paquera [a great Jerez singer]; bautizo [baptism] in lower barrio with Diego, Paco, Perrate[an excellent singer] & La Fernanda
- Juerga at Tailor’s (El Escribano) house with Paco (solo), Diego (solo) & Niño Rosa
- Diego, Manolito and Fernando at Bob Fletcher’s in Seville.

*Reel 9 Side B through Reel 11 Side A
- Diego at Chimenea’s with Pohren
- Paco at Casa Pepe
- Paco – juerga at Pepe Chino’s house with Diego, Nino Rosa, Juan and his padre
- guitar solo by student

*Reel 11 side B through Reel 14 Side A
-Part of Fletcher’s fiesta with Diego, Manolito, Fernando
-Mellizo, solo at hospedaje
-From Pohren’s tapes of Paco, Diego, Juan Talegas, Manolito, Nina de los Peines
-Esteban de Sanlucar, La Perla, Miguel Valencia at Pohren’s club
-Chris and Fernando, and others
-Bautizo at Andre’s and Fernando’s with Diego, Perrate and La Fernanda
-Solo by Diego

*Reel 14 Side B through Reel 17 Side A
-Fiesta, Casa Villa Clara
-Antonio Cruz
-Iglesias and company

*Reel 17 Side B through Reel 19 Side A
-Unidentified

*Reel 19 Side B through Reel 22
-Selections from Don Pohren’s collection
-Selections from Don Pohren juergas – Antonio & Paco [Francisco] Mairena, Eduardo de la Malena
-Richardo Pachon [later the producer of Camaron’s historic recordings, Luis Maravilla [possibly the dancer Luisa Maravilla, Pohren's wife]
-Fiesta with Pohren
-Flamenco: Diego del Gastor, La Fernanda de Utrera, Manolito de la Maria, Chris Carnes, Fernandillo de Moron, Don Pohren, David K. Loughran

End of explanations and notations by the son-in-law of recordist David K. Loughran.

Okay. I am grateful to the late David K. Loughran for his selfless dedication, and to his son-in-law Dennis Quinn for allowing — better yet, insisting — that this material finds a deserving audience.

It is often said that Diego del Gastor was an unrecorded guitarist, and in fact he assiduously avoided efforts by Spain’s most prestigious record label — at the time their only other guitarist was a young man named Paco de Lucía — to entice him to record by building a high-tech studio near his home. (Diego just skipped town until they tore it down.)

On the human scale, Diego may have been the most recorded flamenco guitarist in history. I have many hundreds of hours of his playing, both alone and for the singers named above and dozens of others. (And I still don’t have most of the material in the largest stash, recorded by the late Chris Carnes and now residing at the University of Washington where it probably doesn’t get the tiniest fraction of the attention and audience it deserves.)

Not surprisingly, I already have a lot of the same material that Mr. Loughran recorded — clearly from tapes made by Chris and others. But a lot of the other material listed above was originally recorded by Mr. Loughran, and has enormous historical importance. I hope other addicts will join me in the effort to add more detail and information to the sparse notes seen above.

I haven’t listened to the material yet, and rarely use or trust sites that normal humans feel comfortable signing onto. I assume SoundCloud is a logical place to have archived this music, and that it will remain accessible there indefinitely.

Aproveche.

Brook Zern

March 24, 2015   2 Comments

Tell Me Again How Fusing Flamenco With Jazz Will Guarantee It New Popularity…

From TheJazzLine.com:, March 11, 2015:

Jazz has become the least popular music genre in the U.S., accounting for just 1.4 percent of all music consumed, and more people are moving away from the genre every year.

Taylor Swift’s new album “1989″ is expected to sell more copies (5.2 million) than all jazz records combined sold in in the past year.

Meanwhile, on the increasingly popular streaming services. jazz accounts for 0.3% of music played.

Hmmm. Let’s consider this astonishing information. Over the last three decades, Paco de Lucía devoted much of his life and his creative genius to creating a viable flamenco/jazz fusion. I didn’t like it much, but then I don’t understand jazz. I am certain he did it because of a personal vision and not for commercial success.

But I also assumed it would open a vast new world of sales possibilities, like hitching flamenco’s wagon to a star. Now the question arises: could flamenco someday outsell actual jazz?

I think José Mercé, probably the greatest living singer of very serious flamenco, has sold more than a million records, mainly because his records mix great flamenco with a pop/flamenco mashup that he loves but that sounds kinda cheesy to me. On a per capita basis, I’d bet that flamenco in Spain outsells jazz in the U.S.

When the initial efforts to fuse jazz and flamenco began in earnest in the eighties, I was unnerved. I thought that jazz, which I considered to be the real world music, could swallow flamenco whole and not even burp.

Well, it has certainly digested a lot of flamenco artists and denatured a lot of the art. But jazz is contracting. Maybe it’s time for flamenco to cut its losses and desert that shrinking ship.

The Jazzline article is at: http://thejazzline.com/news/2015/03/jazz-least-popular-music-genre/

Brook Zern

March 11, 2015   6 Comments

Introducing… Brook Zern – From Guitar Review #37, Fall, 1972

Guitar Review #37 of Fall, 1972, carried my first column, devoted to the flamenco methods available at the time.  As usual with new writers, they included an introduction:

BROOK ZERN lived in Andalusia for many years.  He has played and talked about flamenco music on many New York radio programs (including his own WBAI series, “Flamenco”), on National Educational Television, at the Society of the Classic Guitar, and at schools and colleges.  He is currently teaching a university course in the music and culture of flamenco at the New School for Social Research in New York City, where he also teaches guitar privately.

“I was born in 1941, the son a a Pennsylvania Dutch advertising copywriter who had a Mittyesque delusion that he was actually a flamenco guitarist.  I don’t know what he did in the offce, but at home he played flamenco guitar incessantly for the first twenty years of my life,  He got pretty good, but the music drove me nuts.  Maybe it was overexposure — it’s hard to sleep during a thundering zapateado — or maybe I sensed that he wanted me to learn flamenco, and felt honor-bound never to do what my parents wanted.

“Anyway, I finally left home for college and the absence of flamenco music drove me nuts.  I snuck back home, took my father’s Velázquez guitar and headed for his teacher’s apartment.  I learned a lot from Fidel Zabal — about flamenco and much more.  After graduating from Columbia College, I went to Spain with my wife and started studying guitar in Seville and the outlying towns.  I studied with all the good guitarists I could find, asked dumb questions, and read the existing literature — mostly worthless — on flamenco.

“Now I am an advertising copywriter with a Mittyesque delusion that I am a flamenco guitarist.  I consider this to be a rare form of genetic defect.”

February 9, 2015   2 Comments

Spain’s national news agency on Paco de Lucia’s relationship to New York City

On February 26, 2014, soon after the grievous loss of Paco de Lucía, Spain’s official news agency EFE published an article that ran in La Información and many other Spanish-language publications.  It focused on Paco’s connection to New York City.  I was contacted as a source of information.  Here’s my translation of the piece:

New York, a key city in the transformation of Paco de Lucía

New York, Feb 26 (EFE) – The city of New York, with its chrysalis of cultures and the enormous effervescence of the sixties and seventies, was a key factor in the musical evolution of Paco de Lucía from traditional flamenco to the fusion that revolutionized the art.

From his early years, de Lucía repeatedly visited the city starting in the first half of the sixties, and found himself in the confluence of great Spanish guitar masters, as well as the richness of sounds from that era that influenced his evolution, which also became the evolution of flamenco itself.

The late guitarist arrived in the city of skyscrapers at the age of 16 or 17, with a group of musicians and dancers brought by José Greco, a New York dancer of Italian descent who became a flamenco artist and one of the protagonists of flamenco life in the city since the 1940’s.

Greco had appeared in that decade with some great figures like Carmen Amaya, Pilar López and La Argentinita, and for many years brought musicians and promising groups to accompany him in his appearances, among them the dancer El Farruco,

In his second trip to New York with Greco, Paco de Lucía remained extremely promising and he was presented to Agustín Castellón “Sabicas”, a Gypsy guitarist from Pamplona who lived in New York and was considered the world’s greatest flamenco guitarist, according to Brook Zern, the music critic, flamenco expert and former flamenco editor of Guitar Review.

“After Paco played for him, Sabicas realized that he had seen the future,” recalls Zern, and Sabicas told him that he could not keep on playing the way he did, imitating masters like Niño Ricardo.  Instead, he had to find his own path.  “Create your own flamenco”, Sabicas insisted, according to the critic.

In addition to Sabicas, other Spanish guitar masters like Carlos Montoya and Mario Escudero had settled in New York in the 1940’s and 50’s as flamenco guitar soloists, a form of interpretation that had not found acceptance but in New York was becoming increasingly successful.

“In the U.S. we were ready for it – not for the singers, but for the guitarists, much more than in Spain,” recalls Zern.

Paco de Lucía discovered that format, but he also took advantage of his trips to New York to absorb all the musical styles that were permeating the city, from jazz and bossa nova to rock and salsa.

New York was “a bubbling melange of cultural ideas”, where Paco “soaked up  the cultural mix” that is the city.  “He realized, to the dismay of the purists, that the future was in fusion,” Zern adds.

In his New York experience, Paco de Lucia “discovered that flamenco’s musical vision was too narrow,” and, for example, lamented that he could not appear accompanied by a flutist or a bassist, in the manner of a jazz ensemble – a vision that would later become reality, Zern says.

Today, a flamenco guitarist can be like the leader of a jazz group.

For example, in 1970 or 1971 – Zern isn’t sure of the precise year – Paco de Lucía appeared in New York’s Spanish Institute, and in the audience was Andy Warhol (accompanied by his courtiers from The Factory), who at the end met with the young flamenco genius – an encounter that evidently left no photographic record since the pictures Zern took did not come out.

The result of this cocktail was that Paco de Lucía “reinvented flamenco in several distinct phases or periods, until he had almost created a new art”, says the critic.  To such a point that Sabicas once told him that when he had given his advice to Paco, he had never dreamed that the young man would take flamenco so far, Zern recalls.

Paco de Lucía expressed this evolution in his famous collaboration of 1980 with two non-flamenco guitarists, the Englishman John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola, from New Jersey.

If the late guitarist fed off of New York musically, the city returned the favor in the form of affection and applause and filled concert venues like the legendary Carnegie Hall, as well as critical raves for his performances.

“The New York public adored him,” and even followed him to restaurants after his shows just to watch him eat, says Zern, for whom the loss of Paco de Lucía was “utterly devastating,” especially since he was “at the pinnacle of his career, despite the fact that he was no longer young.”

(Agencia EFE)

End of article.  One example of the original story is seen at: http://noticias.lainformacion.com/arte-cultura-y-espectaculos/musica/nueva-york-una-ciudad-clave-en-la-transformacion-de-paco-de-lucia_WxsG0XhkGfnuw2dUwVX6S6/

 

December 29, 2014   No Comments

Brook Zern — Biographical Data

A few decades ago, a music magazine asked me for a bio.  I submitted the following, which for some reason they did not publish:

Brook Zern — Biographical Data:

Manuel Amaya Cortés Heredia “El Morucho”, the youngest of that legendary clan’s eleven children, was born to a life of freedom, wandering by day and sleeping beneath the stars.  As a carefree youth, he quickly acquired great fame among his people for his prodigious mastery of deep flamenco song, as well as his astounding guitar playing and his electrifying flamenco dancing.

Yet deep within him, there lay an unquiet and questing soul which could not rest content.

“One day our caravan happened to pass through the suburbs,” he recalls, “and I saw an advertising copywriter getting off the commuter train with a briefcase in his hand.  At that instant, I knew at last what I had always wanted to be.

“During the night, I stole away from the campfire and ran back to that same neighborhood.  Of course, you can imagine the suspicion and mistrust with which I was greeted.  After all, I knew nothing of the strange laws and secretive customs of these exotic people.  I only knew that in my heart of hearts, this was where I truly belonged.

“I won’t bore you with the details of my long struggle for acceptance — those difficult days of rebuff and rejection.  Many times I almost gave up, convinced that the mysterious quality I sought so desperately was something that these people carried in the blood, something that could never be fully apprehended by an outsider.

“But gradually I began to gain their respect, and finally their acceptance.  And I’ll never forget the day when, after undergoing the rite of “interview”, I actually became a copywriter myself!

“On that same day, they even gave me my own ‘name’ in their unique dialect: Brook Zern.

“All that was long ago, of course.  But even today, as I sit at my desk from nine to five typing jingles and commercials and writing my mortgage checks, I often stop to reflect upon my good fortune and the singular chain of events that brought me such fulfillment.  And sometimes, I can’t help wondering — what would have become of me if I hadn’t happened to see that commuter so long ago…”

June 25, 2014   No Comments

Success Story: The Surprising Saga of Richard Black “Quijote”, Californian Flamenco Singer and Guitarist – Comments and Translation by Brook Zern

Antonio Barberán is a well-known flamenco authority in Spain, with a particular focus on the traditions of Cádiz and the nearby seaport towns.  His blog, called Callejón del Duende or Duende Alley, is a rich source of hard-core info.

Here’s my translation of his latest entry, from April 12th 2014:

“Yesterday in the Peña Flamenca de Juan Villar, I again had the tremendous honor of experiencing the song of Antonio Puerto, accompanied on this occasion by a fabulous Californian guitarist, unknown to me until now, but whom I’ll be following from now on, known as Richard Black “Quijote” in the flamenco realm.

Antonio opened with some tonás de los Puertos, bringing to mind the artistry of Juan de los Reyes and El Negro del Puerto.  He followed up with some pain-wracked siguiriyas of El Viejo de la Isla (recalling the art of Santiago Donday), and Curro Dulce, and Tomás el Nitri and closing with the version by Luís el del Cepillo.  He continued with some soleares de Cádiz by Enrique el Mellizo, and alegrías, both from the crystalline fountain of Rancapino.

The second half began with soleares of Alcalá, Utrera and Triana; fandangos de Cepero (some with verses he composed) and Paco Toronjo.  The evening closed with bulerîas de Cádiz sung and played by “El Quijote”, always at a memorably high level and sung with a compás that made it seem he wasn’t born in California at all, but spent his first days living on Mirador Street in Cadiz’s very flamenco Barrio Santa María.  All an absolute delight!!  Without the slightest doubt, both artists were [or would have been, if this had been a bullfight] carried out on the shoulders of the thrilled crowd through the Main Door of la Caleta.

I’ve included a soundfile of Antonio Puerto’s martinetes.  I don’t have more from the event, but here’s a bit about both artists:

[Omitting info on Puerto here, Barberán continues]:

Richard Black “Quijote”, a Californian of 70, living in Rota where he has fully integrated himself into the flamenco ambiente of that beautiful town in the province of Cádiz.

From what I’ve been able to learn about him, he’s a very curiosa [unusual] person.  For years, he dedicated himself to reintegrating difficult juveniles into society, and later designed sailboats, while always playing music in pop and folk groups.  More than 50 years ago, he heard a friend playing flamenco and ever since, he’s been trapped by that music.  Interestingly, one of his boats – which was his first abode in Rota – was christened with the name “Saeta” [“Arrow”; also an intense flamenco song form].

I have to confess that this guitarist captivated me from his very first notes, transporting me to the musical realm of Diego del Gastor.  He has stupendous domination of the instrument, he indisputably knows very well the songs, and he’s loaded (pasao) with rhythm (compás), as we flamencos say.  You have to hear it, since he never repeated a single falseta, his music is rancio [well aged, soaked with character], and it’s clear even from a distance that he is a chunk (pedazo) of a musician from head to foot – and it’s not for nothing that he’s nearly two meters tall.

I leave you here with two more videos where Quijote accompanies El Negro Agujetas from Rota in a soleá and a bulerías.

End of review by Antonio Barberán.  The original, with sound files, is at

http://cdizflamencoflamencosdecdiz.blogspot.com/2014/04/el-cante-caro-de-antonio-puerto.html?spref=fb

Translator’s note:  Congratulations to all, and especially our dear friend Quijote, who has indeed found his true place, true love and his true family in Rota.  

I first met him about eight years ago.  I was invited to do a show-and-tell by the admirable and indefatigable Aurora Reyes and Basilio Georges who run Flamenco Latino in midtown Manhattan, keeping the flamenco flame burning with heroic determination, important events and classes, and far too little recognition. 

 But fellow guitarist Steve Kahn, my favorite compadre, mentioned that Quijote was in the city.  I knew he played guitar, and also sang.  I suspected he wasn’t very good at the latter, but said it would be good to go get him and bring him along.

A half hour later I was in a leaky dinky dinghy, trying to help Steve row and not be seasick at the same time.  After a while we got to Ricardo’s sailboat, which wasn’t bouncing around quite as much.  It seems he was sailing to Spain, where he planned to live.  He had tied up off the 79th Street boat slip for the night.

We finally got back ashore, took a cab to Flamenco Latino, and Steve introduced Quijote.  

He opened his mouth, and Manolito de la María came out.  Manolito, long dead, was one of the greatest singers I’d ever heard, and a crucial link in the creation chain of the soleares, which is really the central song of flamenco.  Anyway, there he was again, channeled through the improbable host of Ricard Black.

He stopped and asked for questions.  I had one: “How the hell did you do that?”

He said, “Easy.  I just kept trying for twenty-two years, and never got any better, and then one morning I woke up and there he was.”  He added that sometimes Juan Talega, an even greater singer, shows up as well.

The rest of the evening was astonishing.  Quijote sang a lot.  Steve accompanied him, brilliantly as usual and in the Morón/del Gastor style that he makes seem easy when it is in fact staggeringly difficult. 

A month or two later, I was on the beach at Puerto Santa María, and the light atop Quijote’s sailboat hove into view.  He had arrived, we pulled his dinghy ashore, and we resumed our conversation, and spent a lot of time together over the following years when he came to Jerez.  He soon found a new life and a family.   He hangs around with flamencos, notably members of the Agujetas clan which is from Rota, and plays guitar for the local artists and sings sometimes.

I sometimes say that flamenco is really just stories.  This is a nice one, and the above review by a ranking expert is the icing on the cake.  Olé, amigo Richard.

Brook Zern 

April 13, 2014   3 Comments

Diego del Gastor – An Appreciation by Alberto García Ulecia – translated by Brook Zern

 Translator’s note:  This article was recently added to the website or Facebook page ARCHIVOS FLAMENCOMORON [note the run-together second word], which is amassing information, photos and reports about Morón de la Frontera, its history, its flamenco and its people.  Like many entries, this was added by the extraordinary dancer Pepe Torres [who signs on as Pepe Torres Bailaor Torres].  Here it is:

But… what was Diego del Gastor really like?

In his case, it is hard to separate the man from the artist.  He was, above all, profoundly human, and human contradictions were part of him: cordial and warm, yet shy and reserved; complicated yet elemental; intuitive and rational; introverted and sharing; traditional and progressive; funny and melancholy…all these diverse components that revealed his individuality still seemingly live in our air, in his enchanted hands, his mane of a hallucinatory whiteness, his voice of worn anguish, his vertiginous rage against pretense or egotism.

We still sense his warm presence, his sensitive friendship, his tender silence when thinking about a child or looking at flowers… his venerable air of an exiled archangel, with the forehead of a patriarch and the smile of a good child.

There was something of García Lorca in him, thin and tall, with that natural elegance of an impoverished or dethroned king that is sometimes found in men or women of his race.  He was as old as a mountain and as ingenuous as a little child, strong from the austerity of his life and delicate from the sensibility that lent the image of a lily – but an incorruptible, never-fading lily.  And today we feel that Andalusians like him are in good measure the image of Andalusia itself.

Diego withstood in Morón the difficult years of the 40’s, and then entered the 50’s and 60’s.  He never went abroad or joined the flamenco shows and spectacles, he didn’t make any recordings, thanks to his spiritual wealth, his exoticism, his bohemian romanticism and even his foolishness…He survived in Morón through flamenco fiestas among friends and some well-to-do gentlemen, living only through his guitar.

With the slights and snubs and bitterness that he often bore in those decades, especially for a artist like him after those hard tests, Diego retained his elegance of spirit, his peculiar integrity, his dislike of egotism and strictly materialist values.  He seemed to be a disconcerting mixture of pride and humility…

Some said he was crazy, and in some way it was true – according to the standards of the thoughtless or the bourgeois.

Later in his life, times changed and the circumstances of his life improved, to the point that he was welcomed into relatively expansive circles within and beyond Morón, without being corrupted.  He made trips to Ronda and to El Gastor, his places of origin.  It was a time of recognition and prizes, reported by the newspapers and other media.  This state of affairs contributed on the one hand to increased general prestige for flamenco in more or less intellectual circles, and on the other hand to the arrival of a flow of foreigners from many nations, attracted by flamenco song and by the artistic and personal magnetism of the man from El Gastor.  They went to live in Morón and to study guitar with Diego – classes that were usually as unpredictable and fascinating as the maestro himself.    In this sense, it can be said that before Diego attained nationwide renown in Spain he had already earned an international reputation.  Those exotic students of Diego proliferated, but that doesn’t mean he created a true school of guitar playing among those disciples.  The only school that such a personal artist could leave was the imprint he gave to the excellent local guitarist Manolo Morilla, and that represented by his nephews Paco, Juan, Agustín, and the son of Joselero de Morón, Dieguito.

Each have their own artistic approach and sensibility, carrying in their hands and their blood bits of the musical styles and even the duende of the master himself.

Even the unknowing listener will realize that their guitars sound different from all others.

Nonetheless, his creative vein was developed in melodic variations in the styles of soleá, siguiriyas and bulerías, sometimes borrowed by other players…

And nonetheless, beyond the depth, flavor and Gypsy purity of his playing, perhaps the most outstanding aspect of his art was the most non-transferrable: the singular “aire” that permeated all of his playing.  The chilling duende that deepens, capable of crushing the chests of the listeners with moving beauty, and then suddenly relaxing its grip.

When the trance generated by his guitar suddenly appeared, all fell silent and some who were drawn into the realm of this Gypsy were paralyzed, petrified, their faces frozen into a strange expression of sweet, embracing mysticism.

It was as if they had been bewitched by the light of an ancient moon that left in their features an almost pantheistic heritage of who-knows-what vanished race or civilization, an extract of tears from past woes running down their cheeks,

Diego del Gastor resembled no one.

And those who heard him will never forget.

Today, years after his death, the memory of his presence and the magic of his music still light our way and ennoble us, inspiring us, wounding us; it does to our hearts what the wind does to the flowers.

Alberto García Ulecia.

End of translation, made from a problematic handmade Spanish transcription (corrections welcome) seen at:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1440972206139022/1452363348333241/?notif_t=group_activity

 

March 18, 2014   No Comments